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Gandhara Art

Yakshi talking to pet parrot.Rail pillar from Bhutesar, Mathura.Kushan,  2nd century AD.  Indian Museum Calcutta (click on pic. to see larger image)

Princess at an entrance.Ivory carving. Begram,Kushan 2nd AD Kabul Museum. (click on pic. to see larger image)

Buddha worn by ascetic tests from Sikri ,3rd cent AD.Central Museum Lahore. 7 yrs when Buddha underwent hardest ascetic tests,in search of salvation ultimate state of consumption before giving it up as fruitless. Extraordinarily effective rendering(unrealistic).Greek inspired. Gandharan artists could equal & even outdo their masters. (click on pic. to see larger image)

Panel inbluish schist.3rd 4th century AD. National Museum Karachi. Flames for shoulder,torrents of water for feet.To save sister of Anathapindika Sumaghada who was disrobed in a fight following her protest to naked followers of Nvigrantha sect (jain) in her husband's house. Budha saved her from being accused of adultery. (click on pic. to see larger image)

 At it's peak, under emperor Kanishka, the Kushans struck coins of gold where the image of Buddha, with several of the 32 marks of Buddha hood, appeared for the first time in North India. Kanishka was desirous of living harmoniously with the various peoples and religions within his kingdom and beyond, and the art of Kushan period thus shows Hellenistic, Iranian, Indian (Brahmanical) and Roman influences from time to time. Yet he himself was a big patron of Buddhism and is at times referred to as the second Ashoka for Buddhism. Under his royal patronage, monks were attracted from Doab to the Gandharan regions where permanent monasteries were established for them. These monasteries provided an endless gallery for sculptured reliefs of the Buddha and Bodhisatvas. The ruins of one such huge monastery and its Gandharan stupa survive in Guldara in present day Afghanistan. The Gandharan stupa had a taller than usual dome and the square railing at the summit was also enlarged and more elaborate, but the  most remarkable feature which distinguished the Gandharan stupa from the previous styles was the huge size of the tiered umbrellas at its peak almost towering over the entire structure. The greatest of all Gandharan stupas was erected by Kanishka at Shah-ji-ki-Dheri on the outskirts of Peshawar (Kanishka's capital in the North) along with hundreds of other smaller stupas and a monastery surrounding it of which very little remains today. The Chinese monks attracted by the royal patronage to Buddhism are credited with some of the most comprehensive chronicles of that period of Indian history. One of the favourite sculpture media for the Kushans (known as Gandhara sculpture) was a blue grey schist flecked with mica, which is distinctive of Gandhara sculpture just like Chunar sandstone is typical to Mauryan sculpture. The abundance of Gandharan sculpture was an art which originated with foreign craftsmen.

After the decline of the Kushana power due to attacks by the Sassanians and the White Huns from North Central Asia, the remnants of Gandharan art lingered on in Kashmir and Afghanistan. However, in the deep, jade green valleys of the caravan route between Takshila and Bactria, the wandering monks undermined the high rock cliffs of the Hindukush with sacred grottoes luxuriously decorated with sculptures and paintings with both Indian and Iranian influences decorated with stucco (prolifically used for ornamentation, in what is now Afghanistan) creating one of Buddhism's greatest monastic centres at Bamiyan. The most spectacular carvings at Bamiyan are the three majestic figures of the Buddha, cut into the valley walls, towering  upto 175 feet in height. After the eighth century however, this monastic centre was abandoned and the advent of Islam in Central Asia made these huge icons a target for the Mongol and Mughal intolerance suffering major damages.In Surkh Kotal around late first century, Kanishka had a unique dynastic shrine erected which transformed a complete hill into a sanctuary for stone figures of Kushan rulers and various deities. A remarkable feature of this monument was that it had a parallel down south in central India at Mathura. Called the Mat or Tokri Tila, it was plundered for centuries by the local villagers for building materials, leaving nothing but the mutilated remnants of Sikri sandstone sculptures. However, the workshops where these sculptures were made, at Mathura, which was already a holy place for Jains, Buddhists and Hindus, benefitted from exchange of sculptural styles and features due to this unique Kushan experiment.Close to Mathura was discovered the parallel of the Tokri tila, another Kushan dynastic shrine at Gokarneshwar, as well as a Jain stupa location at Kankali Tila.

   Buddhist sculptures originating from Mathura during the reign of Kushans also includes many aYaksh  and Yakshi and Naga (serpent deities) figures, demonstrating their descent from the Shunga originals, though the Yakshas evolved into Bodhisattvas to fit into Buddhism. The Mathuran icons were popular all over Doab, and even Sarnath, where they were copied in the local Chunar (cream) sandstone. Early examples of entirely Indian Buddha are ascribed to this period in Mathura, wearing thin robes suitable for warmer climates. This style, developed at Mathura, endured through the third century which marked the fall of the Andhras in the Deccan and weakening of the Kushans too.






Drunlcen ourtesan, helped  by a  youth & attended by a young female servant & an elderly courtesan. Bacle of panel function from Mathura. Kushan 1st 2nd AD.National Museum, New Delhi. May be Vasantsena. (click on pic. to see larger image)

Standing Buddha with nimbus.Black calcareous marble.National Museum ,New Delhi.Gandharan school.Stylized form,praying figure at lotus flower pedestal. 3rd century.AD. (click on pic. to see larger image)

Female statue.Goddes Rome/athena. 2nd cent AD. cent Museum Lahore.2'2", pursiut of perspective effects.Alexendria was assuredly in contact with the gandharas.Probably a wode commissioned by a westerner .

(click on pic. to see larger image)

Head of Buddha. Painted stucco.4th & 5th AD. Central Musium. Lahore. deep black hair,bright red lips,urna between brows,red lines around eyclids,how vivid colours enlivened the dull stucco structures,gandharan coroplasts. (click on pic. to see larger image)


Colossal Buddha of Baniyan(175' tall) 4/5th century AD,National Museum, New Delhi. Enormous rock carved,damaged by Muslim artillery.Stylistically derived from Buddhas of  gandharan, Mathuran,archaic gupta styles. (click on pic. to see larger image)


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Arts Indian Atelier 1999-2000